Transportation Planning Goes for a Ride in Cambridge, Massachusetts

Led by Katie Lamoureux and Rachel Strauss McBrien, APA Ambassadors and professional transportation planners at the U.S. Department of Transportation Volpe National Transportation Systems Center (U.S. DOT Volpe Center), transportation planning was the topic of the day for local students in Massachusetts.

Lamoureux and McBrien organized two separate sessions ― one in conjunction with the Cambridge Street Upper School's Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math (STEAM) Night, and the other in partnership with the Cambridge Science Festival to help promote the field of transportation planning. Both events were offered through the U.S. DOT Volpe Center's STEM Outreach Program, which is led by the Center's Office of Organizational Culture and Work Life.


Cambridge Middle Schoolers Design a City that Moves Them

Rachel Strauss McBrien, APA Ambassador and community planner with the U.S. DOT Volpe Center, at Cambridge Street Upper School STEAM Night. Photo by Katie Lamoureux.

Transportation planning plays a role in our everyday lives ― from how we travel to how goods are transported and the infrastructure we rely on to make these movements possible. Students from the Cambridge Street Upper School had the opportunity to help design their own "MoveCity," including its multimodal transportation system during the School's second annual STEAM Night on January 24, 2017.

With help from the two APA Ambassadors, students mapped out what they would like to see in their new City and how people would move around to these exciting destinations. Rachel and Katie explained how activities such as this are used in professional planning exercises, such as design charrettes. As students proposed ideas for MoveCity, Rachel and Katie asked questions about who would use the new idea and how they would get there, which led to creative discussions about community design and transportation planning.

Students learned a little bit about transportation planning while getting creative about what they would like to see in their "MoveCity." Photo by Katie Lamoureux.

Throughout the night, students continued to add to the City. Proposed additions ranged from recreational uses, such as soccer fields and dog parks, to academic uses, including a university campus complete with a dormitory and quad, to practical needs such as banks and post offices. New bus lines, sidewalks, and even a boat rental service were suggested improvements to the multimodal transportation system. By the end of the night, MoveCity was well positioned for exciting future growth.

Cambridge Science Festival

Making Places: Building with Blocks

The Cambridge Science Festival is an annual event held in April 2017 and sponsored by the MIT Museum. Katie and Rachel organized two events at the U.S. DOT Volpe Center, in conjunction with the Festival, which were open to elementary, middle, and high school students across Massachusetts. They also invited colleagues to participate as "table facilitators" to help lead discussions with the students.

Katie Lamoureux (left) and Rachel Strauss McBrien (right), APA Ambassadors, with participants of the Cambridge Science Festival activity. Photo courtesy U.S. DOT Volpe Center.

Students participated in a "place-making" activity, thinking about the structures found in different types of places, from cities to neighborhoods to farms. Using blocks and other materials, the students created their own innovative designs, including downtown city centers, main streets, residential communities, and agricultural operations.

With the place-type models established, the students then focused on the transportation networks that would help connect the different areas. Trails, transit stations and lines, freight rail systems, bike paths, sidewalks, and even helipads, were all proposed to help create transportation connections. Materials such as ribbon, pipe cleaners, and markers helped indicate these new connections.

Student participants share their ideas as part of report-outs at the end of the session. Photo courtesy U.S. DOT Volpe Center.

At the end of the exercise, each table "traveled" around the room to hear what the other tables had been working on as part of the report-outs. Students shared their ideas with each other as well as what they had learned about transportation planning.

While many students had been familiar with the overall principles of transportation and how people and goods travel, they indicated that they learned more about transportation planning and how good planning requires good teamwork and collaboration too.

Top image: The final design for MoveCity included a mix of recreational, academic, commercial and residential uses and a very multimodal transportation system. Photo by Katie Lamoureux.

About the Authors
Katie Lamoureux, AICP, and Rachel Strauss McBrien, AICP, are both 2017 APA Ambassadors and Community Planners with the U.S. Department of Transportation Volpe National Transportation Systems Center.

July 17, 2017